From the August 2013 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Think Big, Stay Small: How Outsourcing Can Grow Your Firm

Most advisory firms can boost their success by keeping staff to a minimum and outsourcing to the max

One of the keys to running a successful and profitable independent advisory business is leverage. As I am sure you know, leverage can come from outside sources as well as staff employees. In fact, we’ve found that using outsourcing effectively and at the right time in the growth cycle can be the difference between mediocre and highly successful firms.

Outsourcing keeps costs down, and more often than not, the jobs we outsource are done better. By using outside help that focuses on specific tasks—say, creating marketing plans or overseeing regulatory compliance—firms can get much greater expertise at a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee. At the same time, a firm’s employees and owners don’t have to be “jacks of all trades and masters of none”; you can leverage them with outside expertise in areas where they have none, enabling them to focus on the areas where they are experts. In a lot of the work we do with our long-term advisory firm relationships, we find simple ways to outsource even key functions such as CFOs, COOs and CEOs, freeing up firm resources and driving growth until firms reach a size at which it makes economic sense to bring these jobs in-house.

In our client firms, we don’t farm out all the possible jobs at once. Instead, we expand our use of outsourcing partners as the firm’s needs evolve. Not only does this help manage costs (especially during the early stages of firm growth when every dollar can make a difference), it also allows firm owners and staff to recognize what can and can’t be outsourced; the impact and potential that effective outsourcing can have; and how to best work with and manage outsourcing partners.

We’ve found outsourcing to be so beneficial to the growth of an advisory firm that we build systems into our client firms to create trigger points that tell us when to bring in specific outsourcing partners. While I’d love to tell you the detailed process of our outsourcing triggers (and mention all our partners), I am only allowed limited words in this column. So, here’s a simplified version of our outsourcing time line and a short list of our clients’ and colleagues’ most praised outsourcing partners to help owner-advisors and managers recognize what to outsource and when we suggest they do it.

First, for recruiting new advisors and employees, we use outsourcing services for firms of every size. Our company does recruiting in-house for our own advisor clients, but there are times where specialized recruiting services do it better, faster and cheaper. We find two recruiting services very useful. New Planner Recruiting (NewPlannerRecruiting.com), owned by Caleb Brown, specializes in finding new advisors and, consequently, has great connections at financial planning schools around the country. Surprisingly, we find some of the best talent by using CareerBuilder (CareerBuilder.com), a national recruiting website where you can post jobs and search resumes, and even get help from a live recruiting specialist (a rarity these days).

Firms with one to three employees. As you might expect, with smaller firms, we’ve found that the potential to outsource is smaller than with larger firms, but the impact can be great, both in financial terms and often in the leverage it can provide the owner-advisor. Typically, there are three services from which smaller firms can benefit greatly. For creating a website, we like Advisor Products at AdvisorSites.com: They have a turnkey system for designing a website, and it’s very cost effective. For regulatory compliance, smaller firms typically need help with specific compliance issues rather than ongoing help. Our smaller clients love Stark & Stark (Stark-Stark.com), which has multiple offices including in New York City and Philadelphia. They take a team approach and are good at complicated compliance problems. Lastly, we’ve found that most owner-advisors of smaller firms can greatly benefit from a personal assistant, but rarely can afford one. We recommend outsourcing to Zirtual.com: They have contacts in virtually every city and town in the country who will do anything from picking up your dry cleaning to booking your vacation to scheduling. They are also very resourceful about offering solutions to whatever problems come up, and have connections with many other companies to solve most business or personal needs.

Firms with four to seven employees. As firms grow larger, they tend to run into a problem they are rarely equipped to handle: human resources and growth planning. This is where we do 65% of our consulting work because most firms this size cannot afford hiring an HR professional or a COO. With HR, administration is the key and our solution is to work with a professional employer organization (PEO). We like TriNet (TriNet.com), a nationally recognized firm that works with service companies. They provide everything a business needs to administer payroll and taxes, group benefits, retirement plans and HR compliance. For legal compliance matters, more advisors mean more complex issues. A lot of our firms like MarketCounsel (MarketCounsel.com), which has a program designed on retainer, with a process to take a firm step by step through what’s needed to get in and stay in legal compliance.

Firms with eight or more employees. At this stage, most firms need to add two more outsourced services: marketing and branding. Wealth Management Marketing (WealthManagementMarketing.net) works exclusively with independent financial advisors, so they have a very short learning curve about what a firm does and for whom they do it. They will work with a firm owner to create a marketing plan and then work to implement that plan. More than just design and strategy, they help firms grow. As for custom branding, we recommend JNT Company (JNTCompany.com) to help develop custom websites to fit the unique businesses of our client firms. They are creative, and very good at branding and design. It’s difficult these days to take a firm to the next level with a lame brand.

For other needs, at firms of any size, we look for project help by posting ads at Elance.com or oDesk.com depending on the task, including newsletter writing and accounting. These days, you can find qualified professionals to help in virtually every area of business, with more expertise than a firm could hire and very cost-effectively.

With our firms, our goal is to outsource these tasks and keep them outsourced. Rarely do we bring any of these jobs back in house. Even when firms add professional CFOs, COOs or CEOs, we continue to use outsourcing to leverage them. In most independent advisory firms today, the largest overhead cost is employees—usually by far. Effective outsourcing—using the right partner, at the right time, in the right way—can reduce in-house staffing needs and leverage existing staff to be more productive. Both of those benefits drop straight to the bottom line. More and more these days, we live in a virtual world, and firms that think of themselves as virtual businesses are far more likely to attain greater success. While I wish I could write about all our awesome outsourcing partners, perhaps this will get you started in thinking about outsourcing some key functions.

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